Adjacent to The Basilica of the Assumption, America’s first Catholic cathedral, is My Sister's Place Women's Center. Administered by Catholic Charities, it is Baltimore’s longest-serving day shelter and resource center for women and children experiencing homelessness.

For more than 15 years, members in the Baltimore Region have been volunteering and providing for the needs of the homeless and hungry in Baltimore, which has included supporting this small shelter. The Order’s signature casserole dinner program at My Sister’s Place is a constant part of their meal operations and has always included our members and volunteers coming together onsite each month to cook and serve a hot dinner directly to those women and children arriving hungry for dinner.

This project was founded and initially led in the late 1990s by Margaret K. Riehl, DM, who died in 2017. Member volunteer and meal coordination was passed on through the years to Margie Counselman, DM, Lindsay Gallagher, DM, Wayne Ruth, KMOb, and Loretto Kane, DM, and supported by countless members and volunteers, cementing a solid partnership between the Order and Catholic Charities of Baltimore. As a testament to the partnership, Catholic Charities hosted an inaugural annual breakfast in 2019 at My Sister’s Place named in honor of Margaret K. Riehl, DM for her work and dedication to the shelter spanning two decades.

As for the rest of the world, 2020 was full of challenges unlike any other for this small shelter, but the Baltimore Region remained steadfast in its support. Due to COVID-19 safety protocol, Catholic Charities closed its doors to all onsite volunteer support, so our members had to find different ways to feed the homeless women and children who arrived daily. Our volunteers shifted to preparing these meals in members’ homes instead of the shelter’s kitchen, then delivering the meals to the shelter.

This renewed effort was led by Mary Hosford, DMOb and her army of cooks, consisting of rotating members and in some cases involving three generations of her own family. Another member, Ann Costlow, DM, who owns a local popular café, Sofie’s Crepes, donated additional meals directly even when her own café was impacted by restrictions and closures.

Upon learning from Catholic Charities in late March 2020 that more than 60 percent of other organizations had cancelled their meal donations or support due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Baltimore Region devised a new plan to feed the clients at My Sister’s Place. We discovered most of the other organizations that remained committed were now donating cold food supplies for easy grab-and-go dinners. In response, an appeal was made for support of this signature project and the region responded overwhelmingly with donations of time and treasure.

With this rapid and generous response, a new plan was put in place two days later, and the Order of Malta started providing a hot dinner of chicken parmesan, pasta, bread, fresh salad, and cannoli dessert every Monday evening in partnership with a local Italian restaurant. A small group of volunteers under strict COVID-19 safety measures worked weekly to pack these meals in individual “to-go” containers and transport them in travel warmers to My Sister’s Place, delivering a hot meal each Monday evening. This replaced the brown-bag peanut butter sandwich dinner provided during COVID-19. Several months later, the dinner service was expanded to twice a week to include Thursdays, based on the need and additional donations received from a second appeal.

Through these collective efforts of our casserole program and restaurant partnership since the pandemic began, the Baltimore Region has provided more than 5,000 hot meals safely to homeless women and children living on the streets of Baltimore. An annual increase of 4,500 meals in one year! All these meals are the only hot and complete meals received and served for dinner during the week due to the limited operations at the shelter. Our members are working closely with the shelter as it prepares to reopen with limited volunteer engagement this summer as its first step to welcoming the women and children inside the shelter, as well as volunteers to serve them. Additionally, the region provided 1,000 personal hygiene kits and additional laundry supplies for clean clothes as part of existing laundry facilities onsite. The Federal Association previously provided a grant for a washer and dryer through the grant program in 2012.

As we approached the one-year anniversary of the Order’s pandemic meal program, the Baltimore Region received a surprise $10,000 donation from the John and Rosanne Strittmatter Family Trust to further the Order’s work in supporting the meal program at My Sister’s Place until its doors reopen. This was an unsolicited donation recognizing the impact this project has had feeding needy women and children during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we reflect on the words in our daily prayer, "be it mine to practice charity towards my neighbors, especially the poor and the sick", My Sister’s Place is a project in the Baltimore Region that allows its members to carry this out forgetful of ourselves. And while the Baltimore Region continues to grow and add new works of service for those in need, this small project remains at the heart and soul of our region.